Ant Hour Gospel (The Body Distances)

by Mark Wagenaar

—for D & E

You close the Book of Little Miracles on the woman who survived
a ten thousand foot fall to earth, you close it on a man pulling a barb

of black feather from his son’s neck. You close it on blackbirds falling
from the sky in Alabama, falling by the hundreds,

you close it on a girl who opens her eyes for the first time
in eighty-one days, the same day Stalin’s daughter closes hers

for the last time. Are we saved by the mercy of the inexplicable,
or are we at its mercy? The way that invisible particles,

neutrinos & muons, hurtle through our bodies as we breathe,
making even of our breath a blue horizon, making of our bones

impossible distances—think of the arroyos in the humerus,
meadows & lemon groves in the ribcage, canebrake

within the ears’ wild hollows that stir at the faintest light:
tiny hairs, like cilia, that can hear light. No wonder the blue ranges

of the horizon mean so much to us. No wonder we trace
bird wakes, zip lines to the infinite, shortcuts to revelation—

remember Beethoven, who realized he was deaf when he saw birds
sparking from a soundless bell tower. Beneath tonight’s birds, cardinal

& chipping sparrows, evening primrose parachute their blooms
around themselves—such a frail yellow, one shade from a Naples yellow,

one shade past forgetting. And only a few shades between the rust
of blight & autumn brown, less than a breath between the living

& the dead, & less than a hair strand between languages. And nothing
in any language to comfort my friends, who welcomed a son into

the world, & mourned the other son who died in the womb the day
before. No one could explain why. Why, that word which is the very least

of our consolations. Congratulations, we’re sorry. We’re so happy,
we mourn with you. The language fails us, as it must, as it will fail

the boy, each time he looks in the mirror, each time he rides the train
at night, & sees his brother just outside the window, in the dark.

When he, too, becomes older, & lies down with his beloved, becomes
a bridge made of the distance between himself & another body,

when the wild mortal sounds in us become a chorus with another—
when he, in turn, welcomes his son into the world. Tonight,

let’s make our peace with the things we can’t explain. The inexplicable
that helps to explain us, where vestigial wings, prayer, & eros meet.

Let no shoulder go unbitten tonight. Let no one be unscathed.
And as you close the door & fold yourself in sleep against another,

look for a feather fluttering down outside your window.
Someone is missing from the world, but someone has been kept,

beyond all hope, a woman who fell from the sky to earth.
An ant hill cushioned her impact. A hundred stings jumpstarted

her heart, kept the blood moving. Weightless again, borne aloft
on a stretcher, alive in a hundred wounds, weightless as the day beyond

our last day, when we will be carried again beyond the press of years,
weightless as night coming on like a hundred blackbirds rising…

Mark Wagenaar is the author of Voodoo Inverso, winner of the U of Wisconsin Press’ Pollak Prize, and The Body Distances, winner of UMass Press’ Juniper Prize for Poetry, forthcoming in spring 2016. Recent work appears in The New Yorker, Field, Image, and others.

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